For athletes, families and fans, Shores & Islands Ohio provides an unmatched experience both inside and outside of the competition venues. Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, an hour’s drive from both Cleveland to the east and Toledo to the west, Shores & Islands Ohio includes about two dozen towns and islands on the northwest coast of the state, including Huron, Sandusky, Oak Harbor, Port Clinton, Catawba, Vermilion, Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island.
With its indoor and outdoor sports venues, Shores & Islands Ohio hosts a variety of sports events throughout the year.
“All year round, we welcome volleyball, basketball, futsal, gymnastics, dance, cheer, wrestling, bowling and billiards competitions, while our beautiful outdoor green spaces draw seasonal sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse, football, soccer, and more,” says Sports Tourism Manager Cody Carson.
Lake Erie and its tributaries offer natural venues for fishing tournaments, sailing regattas and other water sports. “We get a lot of national fishing tournaments, and the walleye and bass fishing are terrific here,” says Carson. In addition, “Our miles of coastline are the perfect backdrop for everything from 5Ks to marathons, triathlons and obstacle challenge races. Our destination is so unique, with a lot of great downtowns incorporated into the events.” This past summer, Shores & Islands hosted the second annual IRONMAN 70.3 event, which will take place in Sandusky through 2024.
Sports venues throughout the area include excellent public parks with baseball/softball diamonds and rectangular fields to accommodate multiple sports and events, especially soccer and lacrosse. Among the larger venues is Sports Force Parks at the Cedar Point Sports Center in Sandusky, a world-class tournament facility. Sports Force Parks features 10 synthetic turf fields for a wide variety of events, including baseball/softball, football, soccer, lacrosse, rugby and more. When not competing, the whole family can enjoy the park’s amenities, including a ropes course, minigolf and two playgrounds.
Indoors, and right next door to Sports Force Parks, is the Cedar Point Sports Center. It offers 78,00 square feet of hardwood to accommodate 10 basketball courts or 20 volleyball courts. The Championship Arena has retractable seating for fans, and there’s an onsite café and concessions. In addition, the Sports Center includes a 9,500-square-foot entertainment center. Upcoming events include major cheer, wrestling, basketball and volleyball events. CPSC also recently opened its CP Esports facility on-site.
Shores & Islands Ohio works with tournament owners and rights holders to help plan all types of sports events, year-round. The CVB (shoresandislands.com) also can help find lodging; there are hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs and rentals to suit all budgets and tastes. Grants are available, as well, to help grow quality events that can generate overnight stays, create media exposure and more.
Athletes, coaches and families traveling to the area can take advantage of the Shores & Islands Ohio Sports Discount Card, too. Local restaurants and businesses offer special discounts throughout the year for those traveling to the area for sports events. Participating businesses and offerings, which are expanded and updated throughout the year, are featured at sports.shoresandislands.com. (For more information about the program, contact Cody at Cody@shoresandislands.com.)
For sports, Shores & Islands Ohio is a year-round destination, which means when not competing, athletes and families have plenty of activities, attractions and places to visit. The area is divided into five regions: North Shores, Central Shores, East Shores, West Shores, and Islands. Here’s a closer look at what each has to offer.
North Shores includes the communities of Port Clinton, Catawba, Lakeside and Marblehead. One of the biggest attractions is the iconic Marblehead Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes and one of the most photographed Lake Erie landmarks. Situated on the grounds of a state park, the lighthouse turned 200 years old last year.
For more than 150 years, Lakeside Chautauqua has welcomed families to the Lake Erie shore to nurture mind, body, and spirit. The historic community, founded in 1873, is rich in arts, education, recreation and spiritual opportunities. While operating as a gated community with admission fees during the summer season, Lakeside also offers pass options for shopping, dining and worship opportunities.
The North Shores also offers a drive-through safari adventure, world-class fishing, wineries and breweries, plus great downtown areas. It’s also where many ferries depart to Lake Erie islands.
In Sandusky, one of the biggest draws is the Cedar Point Amusement Park, which has been attracting families to the area for more than 150 years. Cedar Point is home to 70 rides (including exhilarating roller coasters) and it features events, festivals, live shows and more. Cedar Point Shores Waterpark is an 18-acre paradise with attractions for all ages.
In addition to the sports venue at the Cedar Point Sports Center, the facility is a top entertainment center that features 23 climbing structures of varying difficulties, a ninja course, climbing walls and other attractions.
Downtown Sandusky, which has been revitalized over the last few years, is rich in history, arts and culture, with attractions like the Jackson Street Pier. Other Central Shores places to stay and play include Great Wolf Lodge Resort and Kalahari Resorts & Conventions. Sci-fi and Star Trek fans will enjoy the Federation World Headquarters in the Sandusky Mall. But it’s not all about celebrating the Star Trek franchise; many visit The Federation because of the ideals and focus on helping those in need and creating a better society.
East Shores includes the city of Huron, a coastal town with an active downtown with plenty to see and do, including waterfront dining, shopping, the Huron Lighthouse, parks, beaches and marinas. The village of Milan is the birthplace of invention, with the childhood home of Thomas Alva Edison and the nearby Milan Museum. The town square is surrounded by quaint shops as well. The community of Vermilion offers a charming small-town atmosphere with beaches, shopping, restaurants, boating, art galleries and other diversions.
Located on 200 acres along the Lake Erie shore is Sawmill Creek by Cedar Point Resorts, which recently underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation. The resort features 35,000 square feet of meeting space with stunning outdoor venues, a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, two pools and numerous restaurants. It’s also adjacent to Sheldon Marsh, a 472-acre nature preserve that attracts more than 300 bird species.
Among other things, West Shores is a birdwatcher’s paradise. In May, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), located at the entrance to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Oak Harbor, organizes “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” when about 90,000 birders come to the area to catch a glimpse of migrating birds. BSBO, open year-round, features a visitors’ center with free birding maps, walking trails and a fascinating window into wildlife in the area.
Magee Marsh Wildlife Beach is for wildlife viewing and beach-combing only; no swimming. The half-mile Crane Creek Estuary Trail along the lake shore hosts various shorebirds during migration. Meanwhile, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor encompasses 9,700 acres of marshes, uplands and forested wetlands, and offers over 10 miles of hiking trails through a variety of habitats.
Exploring the Islands region includes Kelleys Island, Put-in-Bay, and Middle Bass Island, with more than 100 different lodging options. Kelleys Island is the largest of Ohio’s Lake Erie islands and is dominated by natural areas, appealing to nature and bird lovers and those looking for a relaxing, quiet getaway. There are popular wineries, historic homes and a downtown area with all sorts of attractions, shopping and restaurants.
Put-in-Bay (South Bass Island) has been a top Lake Erie destination since the early days of steamship travel. By 1864, wine-making established the island as a visitor destination; today’s visitors enjoy the quaintness of small-town life with Victorian-era buildings, resort community amenities and a wide variety of activities for the entire family.
Neighboring both Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay, Middle Bass Island is a secluded getaway that blends nature and serenity, boasting beautiful lake views, beaches, marinas, a historic district, a wildlife refuge and a state park, along with the historic former Lonz Winery, now an event venue with a coffee shop and speakeasy.
From sports to history, culture and nature, “Shores & Islands Ohio is a year-round destination,” says Carson. “It’s constantly happening here, with tons of sports, activities, and attractions. Families come for the tournaments, but stay for the vacation.” SDM